Did you know plants communicate with each other? According to NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich: "What feels to us like a quiet day in the forest may in fact be a hurly-burly of wafting, pulsing, clicking plant-to-plant communication. And sometimes the chatter leaps across species lines." Sue Burke, in her debut novel, Semiosis, spins this knowledge into a remarkable tale of interspecies interaction.

From an Earth devastated by global warming, 50 people journey to a similar planet, where "stars without constellations and legends shone overhead," and barks and roars fill the nights. On the now-named Commonwealth of Pax, they hope to create a society in full harmony with nature, but come to realize that while the fauna poses dangers, the flora is the bigger problem. "We were civilians in a warlord's territory. We were in a genuine battleground." The settlers believe plants can't outthink humans. They are wrong.

Burke's world-building is phenomenal: animals (playful furry fippocats, vicious ground eagles); snow vines and evil orange trees; remnants of the Glassmakers, earlier alien colonists. Told by characters over a span of a century, her most audacious creation in Semiosis is the rainbow bamboo, discovered in year 34. The colonists sense the bamboo is friendly; in turn, "he" recognizes them as an intelligent species like himself. Communication is needed.

In a fight for both survival and coexistence, the bamboo (named Stevland) becomes the main protagonist--the most compelling of Burke's characters. But all her creations--people, animals, plants--are riveting in this exploration of cooperation versus natural aggression, and repeating the mistakes of the past. --Marilyn Dahl

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